Some girls liked to treat themselves to waxy chocolate or trashy magazines when they needed a little pick-me-up. Jenna preferred walking the cemetery.
“The cemetery?” the girls at work asked. “Why would you want to walk there?”
“It’s beautiful,” Jenna said. “All the trees and fountains and statues create such a relaxing atmosphere.”
Of course, that wasn’t the whole truth. People rarely revealed the whole truth all in one go. If beauty was all Jenna was after, she could find it in a park. What moved her particularly was the sad beauty of the cemetery. She couldn’t conceive of a more romantic place to spend her free time.
She didn’t just walk, she examined. She read inscriptions on headstones and calculated ages at death. There was a bittersweet splendour about those who’d passed the day after their birthdays or holidays. She imagined the dedicated elderly holding out to see their grandchildren’s smiling faces on Christmas morning. They could die happy after that.
Her dreamy morbidity wasn’t the only thing that made those cemetery walks an indulgence. She also saw a man there. Not in the sense that they were seeing each other. He’d smiled at her on a few occasions, but that hardly constituted a relationship. Anyway, she was pretty sure he was gay—and not just because he was cute and stylish.
Every time she saw him, he was planting a new batch of flowers in a plot with a stone marker. One day when he happened not to be there, she crept up to read the inscription. This lovely garden is planted in memoriam of Martin Cho, who knew how to celebrate life’s infinite beauty. There were no birth or death dates, but she had a strong feeling this was a young person’s grave.
The guy who planted flowers there was so impossibly cute, she made a case for his unattainability. If he was gay, she was off the hook. She didn’t have to make excuses for not approaching him. Could Martin Cho have been his brother? Doubtful. The gardening hottie had dark skin. It also seemed unlikely he would devote so much time to a memorial garden if they were just friends. Plus, he was much younger than most of the men and women tending the graves of spouses who had passed.
In Jenna’s fanciful imaginings, all these factors suggested one thing: the cute gardener had been lover to the late Martin Cho, who had most certainly expired after a long and excruciating battle with AIDS. As she watched the poor man plant, all she could see was a vision of him holding hands with his boyfriend. It brought tears to her eyes. She imagined him consoling, “You’re going to get stronger, Martin. I know you. You can beat this thing.”
When he looked up from his garden, it was too late to look away. Jenna was caught staring. He smiled, as he’d done in the past, and she smiled back. She even managed a sprightly, “How’s it going?”
“Good,” he said with a nod. As he dug into the dark earth with his trowel, she realized she wasn’t going anywhere.
“I’m sorry,” she blurted.
It was intended as a consolation, but his eyebrows furled in puzzlement as he looked up at her. “Sorry for what?”
Her mouth fell open, but nothing came out for a while. Eventually she stammered, “For your loss.”
He smiled, but shook his head.
“Martin Cho,” she clarified. “Your boyfriend?”
This time, his mouth fell open. His expression looked the way movie characters’ did when they were about to get hit by a train. With a charming laugh, he said, “I think you’ve got the wrong guy. My name’s Darren and—trust me—I’ve never had a boyfriend.”
Jenna was pretty sure her face had gone deep red. She felt like she was burning up. If only she were two inches tall, she could hide behind the daffodils. But if she was wrong, then who was Martin Cho?
“You’re doing such a great job with this garden,” Jenna said. She hadn’t assumed he was gay with any sense of malice. “I figured it must be for someone important.”
Dusting dirt from his hands, Darren replied, “The way I see it, everyone’s important. Makes no difference if I never met Mr Cho.”
It impressed Jenna that he would devote so much energy to someone he didn’t know. “What is the garden for?”
Darren smiled. “I’ll tell you if you give me a hand with these annuals.”
How could she say no? She sank to her knees beside him. As she dug holes, he filled them.
He told her, “Before I started planting, this was just a patch of dirt. I kept thinking how weird it was to have an inscription about a ‘lovely garden’ that wasn’t here. Finally, I asked about it at the cemetery office. They told me a man named Martin Cho bought this plot claiming the money for the flowers and the stone would be left in his will. When he died, there was only enough for one or the other. The garden or the headstone. No help from the family—they took their money and split—so the office decided to give him the stone and no flowers.”
Darren was doing all this work for a stranger? Jenna sat in awe of his generosity of spirit. When he noticed she’d stopped planting, he looked into her eyes. She took his dirty hand in hers. “You’re fulfilling the last request of a man you never met, simply out of the goodness of your heart?”
“I just think—rich or poor—everyone deserves to be honoured,” he replied. Darren smiled as he pressed her palm with his. “If you think so too, stick by my side. This garden is happy to have you.”
About the Author: Eroticist, environmentalist and pastry enthusiast Giselle Renarde is a proud Canadian, committed volunteer, and supporter of the arts. For Giselle, a perfect day involves watching a snowstorm rage outside with a cup of tea in one hand and a chocolate truffle in the other. Ms Renarde lives across from a park with two bilingual cats who sleep on her head. Giselle Renarde is author of Cunning Little Vixens,Tangled Roots, The Birthday Gift, and Kandinsky's Shirt Button (eXcessica), Beneath the Ice and Third Rail (loveyoudivine) and short story contributor to numerous anthologies. For more information on Giselle and her work, visit her website at www.freewebs.com/gisellerenarde or her blog, Donuts & Desires, www.donutsdesires.blogspot.com